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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Public Policy Fails to Address the Effects of Media Violence on Children

Highly publicized events such as school shootings arouse public interest in the effects of media violence exposure on children, yet there is still considerable public debate about whether to take this issue seriously. A recent article in Social Issues and Policy Review summarizes the research on the effects of media violence and convincingly demonstrates the profound influence that media violence is having in society.

The many studies that have been compiled on the effects of viewing media violence show that there are at least 14 scientifically documented effects on children’s physiological and psychological well-being, both in the short and long term. Although many different types of studies have been conducted, they converge on the same conclusion: Violent media exposure increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior. Video games are of special concern because their effects may be particularly pronounced.

Despite the abundant research documenting the harmful effects of media violence, few people seem to get the message. For example, over half of American parents believe that violence makes children more aggressive, yet only a small percentage establish rules regarding content for their households. In addition, little has been done in the public policy arena in the United States. Because of First Amendment concerns, the courts are less concerned tolerant of government restrictions on media violence than on other public health risk factors. Furthermore, some courts have failed to glean the true strength of the scientific evidence from expert testimony by opposing sides.

The authors outline clear policy options. They recommend a moratorium on access-restriction legislation. Instead, they suggest that parents should be more actively involved in their child’s media habits and that creating a universal rating system for all media, in combination with a major education campaign, might be the most effective policy. In addition, they propose that physicians, medical schools, and state and city governments could also undertake policy initiatives that might be effective. Media violence effects “are likely to become greater over time, as different media converge, become more interactive, become more global, and colonize more spaces in our lives,” the authors note.

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